Microsoft joins Adaptive’s pursuit of blood-based diagnostics

Microsoft has thrown its weight behind Adaptive Biotechnologies’ attempt to develop blood-based diagnostics. The tech giant is contributing its machine learning and cloud computing capabilities to the effort, and has put skin in the game by making an equity investment in Adaptive. 

Seattle-based Adaptive is approaching from a different angle the question of how to diagnose cancers and other diseases from blood samples, hoping to stand out from other companies pursuing the liquid biopsy dream.

Reflecting its background in the profiling of T-cell and B-cell receptors, Adaptive is looking to changes in the immune system for clues about the disease state of patients. The rationale is that the immune system’s role scanning for disease means it should be the first to know about health problems. The challenge is detecting changes in the immune system and translating them into diagnoses.  

Microsoft wants to help Adaptive crack this challenge. Adaptive is bringing its immune sequencing technologies to the collaboration. Microsoft’s role is to provide large-scale machine learning and cloud computing capabilities that will power Adaptive’s attempts to quickly and accurately analyse and interpret the data its technologies spew out. 

Together, the partners think they can develop blood-based diagnostics. The first step is to develop tests that detect individual diseases. But the loftier, ultimate goal is to create a universal diagnostic.

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That universal diagnostic is a long-term goal. But advances in sequencing and Adaptive’s work to understand the immune system mean the company at least has a roadmap toward the objective. 

“We now have the technology to ... develop a universal TCR antigen map,” Adaptive CEO Chad Robins said in a statement. “Some conditions like autoimmune or bacterial diseases can be difficult to diagnose, but this universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease.”

Adaptive is building the TCR antigen map, a relational database, upon its immune sequencing work. The idea is to map T-cell receptor sequences to the antigens they bind. In doing so, Adaptive thinks it can mimic the diagnostic capabilities of the immune system.

Microsoft’s involvement in this effort is further evidence of its interest in healthcare, which the tech firm signalled last year by setting up the Microsoft Healthcare NExT initiative. The Adaptive partnership and investment come days after Microsoft put money into DNAnexus.